Photo credit: Yoann Boyer,

I was taught early on that my intellect was my strong suit.

I remember, as a knowledge-hungry twenty something, I just couldn’t get enough input and new ideas to wrap my head around.

My PhD advisor was probably the most prominent example for me as far as drinking in his knowledge and wisdom. What I didn’t quite realize at the time was to what extent he was actually listening to me. He seemed to always know the exact thing I needed to hear to make progress. I was constantly inspired by the guy!

He had emphasized many times that he loved the PhD program because he learned so much from the students. For some reason, I couldn’t really make anything of it back then.

My world was divided into teachers and students. Teachers were to be respected and listened to and students were to show respect and be talked at.

As my academic career progressed, the ‘students’ I interacted with became more numerous and the ‘teachers’ fewer – a natural occurrence, in my frame of mind, as one gets older.

The hidden fear of “not being good enough” to assume the responsibility of a top-down teacher (who should know better than most others), led me to a version of myself that I secretly despised: an ego-driven, defensive, judgmental professor. Not exactly the inspiring advisor I had enjoyed during grad school.

This hidden fear turned into uncontrollable anxiety attacks – bearable in the privacy of your own home at night, yet not much fun in the middle of teaching a class.

As if that weren’t enough, it took a few verbal slaps from an unkind, yet spot-on student evaluation (and from my empathetic, yet candid husband… also my colleague), for me to actually make a change.

Fast forward a few months, and here I find myself in iPEC’s coach training program with a foundation principle that reads:

“Each person we meet is both our teacher and student.”

Try that on for size when you’re coming from the hierarchical mindset I had been living by!

Looking for the teacher in every person and allowing myself to be their student was tricky to say the least. My intellect was hardwired to know-it-all…

At times, I can still feel my tongue hurting from all the biting I felt I needed to do.

In every conversation, I had an intense urge or reflex to be quick on my feet and ‘fix it’ before the ‘problem’ had even been laid out. I was like those contestants on Jeopardy who hit the red button before Alex can finish his sentence.

Ugh, what a miserable teacher monster am I, I thought.

I quickly became creative to remedy the bruised tongue. Maybe I could stop trying to look for solutions and just listen first. So, I stopped interrupting people all the time and my tongue healed. But, I still had my suggestions at the ready, split seconds after the person finished talking.

Every time I blurted out my suggestions, it was a conversation ender, really.

The miracles started to happen once I became curious about the sea of experience, knowledge, and wisdom any “conversation partner” was carrying.

That curiosity also opened the door for another shift. What I was listening to not only reached my brain, but penetrated my heart and soul.

There was so much more information and wonder than what my intellect could handle!

This wave of information naturally led to more questions – the types of questions that allow your conversation partner to dig deeper and reveal even more wisdom, often to their own surprise.

As it turns out, intellect is not my only strong suit.

Holistic listening – using head, heart, and soul – is the key to facilitating true transformation from within. My intellectual ‘quick-fix’ solutions from back then are nothing compared to the sea of wisdom that lies within each one of us.

Can you imagine what would happen if you dared listening like that to your junior colleagues, your younger siblings, or, Universe forbid, your children?

It may not be magic, but it’s definitely magical.

Credit: The concepts inherent in this article are the author’s interpretation of materials issued by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC).